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College Football Picks and Preview: Welcome Back Big Ten

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As the leaves continue to turn, college football welcomes more teams and conferences into the 2020 season. And here at Fanrun, we would not be doing our due diligence if we didn’t feature action out of the Big Ten. The conference opens with several intriguing games this weekend. Look no further than the East division of the 14-team league for a tilt that looks to go to the wire.

Indiana vs. Penn State

Bloomington, Ind.

Memorial Stadium

3:30 PM, EST

The Skinny

This is a tale of two teams that have grown accustomed to going the distance against one another of late. It has been a one-score affair each of the last two seasons, with Penn State being narrow victors in both. Indiana has defeated the Nittany Lions just once in their 27-year history. Penn State’s current 6-game win streak against Indiana aligns with head coach James Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley.

What Indiana Offers

Both programs welcome either new or promoted administrators on offense. The Hoosiers upgraded tight ends coach Nick Sheridan to offensive coordinator, while Franklin stole Kirk Ciarocca from P.J. Fleck and Minnesota for the same title. The Nittany Lions also bring in three other new faces to oversee positional units.

Sheridan has been quite the journeyman in his young career. The 31-year-old has primarily worked with quarterbacks since landing the full-time position seven years ago at Western Kentucky. Sheridan’s shiniest ribbon revolves around his work at Tennessee. The former quarterback spent time in Knoxville as a quality control coach under then-offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. Their work produced historical results with former Vol, Josua Dobbs.

Now, Sheridan has a signal-caller who mirrors the talent of Dobbs. Michael Penix comes into 2020 looking to bounce back from a knee injury that cost him from finishing what became a benchmark season for head coach Tom Allen. Penix held a record of 5-1 when he went down. The sophomore tallied 10 touchdowns through the air while throwing for over 1300 yards. He also ran for 119.

Penix propelled a Hoosiers attack that finished third in the conference in total offense as Peyton Ramsey closed things out. Indiana went on to lose four more games sans Penix.

Sheridan will also have the luxury of utilizing other key contributors from 2019. The Hoosier offense returns both its leading rusher (Stevie Scott) and receiver (Whop Philyor) from a season ago. Record-setting tight end, Peyton Hendershot, will also play a key role.

This looks to be a well-rounded team heading into the 2020 season. The 2019 Indiana defense allowed 213 passing yards on average while limiting the opposition to 3.7 yards per rush. This year’s unit returns the most production in the conference.

What Penn State Brings

Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney are the only coaches to rack up more wins than Franklin since 2016. The hire of Ciarocca should help maintain that success at State College for the foreseeable future.

Penn State returns an experienced quarterback in Sean Clifford, to go along with a very good offensive line. State’s biggest weapon will likely be preseason All-American Pat Friermuth. The junior is currently tied for the school record of touchdown receptions by a tight end with 15.

The Nittany Lions seem to be set up for a heavy rushing attack coming into 2020. Now that lead-back Journey Brown is out for health reasons, things get a little more complicated for a new Penn State offense trying to find their footing. Reliability looks to be the expectation for sophomore Noah Cain. A boulder of a running back, Cain stands at 5’10 and weighs in at over 225 pounds. He averaged a shade over 5 yards per carry on 84 attempts last season.

The Lions will need the good protection up front compensate for fresh receivers in a new system. Clifford’s top-returning target, Jahan Dotson, has just 27 career receptions. All other weapons on the outside account for 23 combined.

On the defensive side, Penn State matches their offensive front with power and talent. However, they will have to account for a couple of major losses. The Lions lose the production of defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and linebacker Micah Parsons. The former is now making plays for the Carolina Panthers. Parsons, an All-American, opted out of the 2020 season back in August. Just four starters return from a defense that held opponents to 16 points per game in 2019.

What Will Happen

Penn State clearly has more talent. But what about experience and consistency?

The continuity and familiarity that Indiana possesses will give them an edge. If Penix is healthy, he could have a big game. It is important for Penn State to win in the trenches and control the ball.

There will likely be a learning curve in many areas for State. Indiana is on the cusp of a program-changing win. The Hoosiers have come close twice in the past two years. I think they come close again and perhaps pull off an upset. This one will be interesting.

Indiana (+7)

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Other Fan Run Picks and Predictions:

Dylan Salor: Minnesota beats Michigan 28-18

Matt Hubbard: Tulsa over USF 35-10

Tucker Holt: South Carolina +6

Austin Sanders: take Clemson and the points

Hayden Wallen: TCU +6 and OVER 59.5 total points vs. OU, Coastal Carolina -5.5